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Thoughtlines brings you the best academic thinking outside the box from CRASSH at the University of Cambridge. The podcast is presented by Catherine Galloway and produced by Carl Homer at Cambridge TV.
The Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) is an interdisciplinary research centre at the University of Cambridge.
Founded in 2001, CRASSH came into being as a way to create interdisciplinary dialogue across the University’s many faculties and departments in the arts, social sciences and humanities, as well as to build bridges with scientific subjects. It has now grown into one of the largest humanities institutes in the world and is a major presence in academic life in the UK. It serves at once to draw together disciplinary perspectives in Cambridge and to disseminate new ideas to audiences across Europe and beyond.
16 Episodes
When did we forget how to talk to each other properly? And how to think difficult things through, together? Or has this always been controversial, fraught, and sometimes even deadly? The importance of honest, frank, respectful dialogue among citizens was a belief that Socrates lived and died for back in Ancient Greece. And for Dr Frisbee Sheffield – Associate Professor of Classics at Cambridge and Fellow of Downing College – it is a belief that needs to be re-examined and promoted today. Her recent fellowship at CRASSH saw her bring Socrates and Plato alongside 20th century philosopher Hannah Arendt to ask ‘what’s so good about conversation?’ At a moment when the University itself was debating freedom of speech, and social media appears an increasingly toxic space, how can we restore the benefits of thoughtful disagreement and face to face discussion? And what might change if we did? Learn More: - Frisbee's page on the Faculty website: - Read more of Frisbee Sheffield's work on the ethics of conversation here: - Listen to Frisbee Sheffield discussing Plato's dialogues and the death of Socrates with Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4's In Our Time: - Discover the work of Frisbee Sheffield's CRASSH colleague, Kübra Gümüşay, on conversation, language and freedom of speech in a contemporary context, which is mentioned in this episode: Read more on the Hannah Arendt / Adolf Eichmann controversy here: And more on Arendt and Socrates here:
In this episode we talk tech, power, and the endless hell of phone storage with sociologist Professor Gina Neff. As the Executive Director of the Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at Cambridge, and the Professor of Technology and Society at Oxford, she briskly rejects the mythology of a ‘lone genius’ in Silicon Valley coding every aspect of our daily lives. Instead, she champions those she calls the ‘unsung heroes’ of innovation – essentially everyone struggling to make a “better, faster, new way of working” actually … work. Her academic research spans industries as diverse as fashion, construction, and healthcare, and she’s equally at home online, winning a coveted Webby award for her beginner’s guide ‘The A to Z of AI’. Her love of a good data story well told is anything but dry, and her pandemic project is still flourishing. But her main goal is to empower us all to answer two key questions: what kind of future do we want? And what choices must we make today to make that happen? Learn More: Follow Gina Neff on Twitter (for those daily flower photos and more!) Gina Neff is the Executive Director of The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy at CRASSH - all projects discussed in this episode can be found here: The Minderoo Centre for Technology and Democracy Watch Gina Neff give the CRASSH annual lecture, on 'The Cost of Data - making sense in digital society' Her recently published book, Human-Centered Data Science, discussed in this episode can be found here: Human-Centered Data Science Gina Neff's 'A to Z of AI' project, discussed in this episode, and which won a Webby Award for Best Educational Website in 2021, can be found here: Other examples of Gina Neff's work can be found here: On why AI must not make working women's lives worse AI must not make women’s working lives worse - OECD.AI A paper relating to her ongoing work on technology in commercial construction, 'Innovation through practice: the messy work of making technology useful for architecture, engineering and construction teams' Her work on data, and on work: Who does the work of data? and Venture Labor
In this first episode of our second season of Thoughtlines we talk about how culture fights back with historian Professor Kenneth Marcus. As a visiting fellow at CRASSH he’s been exploring what happens when music ‘goes there’ and tackles the horror and heartbreak of war. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and its musical resistance, rapidly going viral on social media, is effectively his project in real time. But his focus on the epic pacifist works of Arnold Schoenberg, Hanns Eisler, and Benjamin Britten reminds us that music was shaping the global human rights imagination well before now. Not only that, it’s also a very effective way to wake up the classroom. Learn more: Many thanks to Larry Schoenberg for permission to use an excerpt from Arnold Schoenberg’s A Survivor from Warsaw, Op. 42: The piano track featured after the introduction is "Waves", written and performed by Kenneth Marcus. Kenneth talks about his book, Schoenberg and Hollywood Modernism, in the Author Hub series at Cambridge University Press: He performs his rap on World War I, titled The War: One of the only live-performance videos of Hanns Eisler’s Germany Symphony (Deutsche Sinfonie, Op. 50) is with the Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester Berlin and Rundfunkchor Berlin, conducted by Max Pommer (1987): Examples of using the arts as resistance in the war in Ukraine: Ukraine's music is an effective weapon of resistance - "I wanted to fight. The army told me to sing" - Ukrainian graduates dance in front of destroyed school in Kharkiv - Kyiv Chamber Orchestra, on using music for peace and resistance - Kenneth Marcus, Cambridge playlist: Handel, Trumpet Concerto in D Major, HWV 335a (Crispin Steele-Perkins, trumpet, Cambridge Music Festival, St. Catherine’s College, 1990) Dvorak, Cello Concerto in B Minor, Op. 104 (Steven Isserlis, cello, West Road Concert Hall, 1989) Gershwin, ’S Wonderful (performed at Forbes Mellon Library, Clare College, 1987) Gershwin, I Got Rhythm (performed at College Chapel, Clare College, 1987) Marcus, Long, Hungry World (composed at Thirkill Court, Clare College, 1987) Marcus, Talkin’ Love (composed at 30 Hardwick Street, Newnham, 1991) Marcus, Waves (composed at Cambridge, 1991) Quincy Jones with Ice-T, Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, and Melle Mel, Back on the Block (played as DJ for Cambridge University Radio, 1990) Strauss, The Blue Danube (Clare May Ball, 1990) Tosh, I Am That I Am (Clare May Ball, 1990) Javanese Gamelan (percussionist in Cambridge Gamelan Society, West Road Concert Hall and Hyde Park, London, 1990) William Byrd, Short Evening Service (King’s College Evensong, 1989)
In this final episode of the CRASSH 20th anniversary year, we ask the centre’s Director, and Grace 2 Professor of English at Cambridge, Steven Connor, whether what we do for a living can ever, or should ever, be anything other than drudgery? Thousands of column inches in the past year have been devoted to ‘The Great Resignation’, or ‘The Big Quit’ – a mass rebellion by millions of disgruntled employees worldwide who decided their current work just isn’t working for them any longer.  Employment, then, is yet another thing to be re-worked by the COVID-19 pandemic, but less examined is why we even do it in the first place. Connor’s latest research project, the culmination of a 40-year academic career, aims to unpack our deeply, and sometimes unconsciously, held beliefs about what we ‘do’. He himself is never less than fully and happily occupied, but also shares his thoughts on what could, and should, constitute ‘serious’ academic work in the Humanities. And it starts by allowing ourselves to admit that, despite our very best efforts to conceal it, we are having an awful lot of fun. Find out more: The CRASSH website includes Q&As on Steven’s two recent books; one with Imke van Heerden in June 2019 (, on the strangeness of ‘the species that styles itself sapiens’, as discussed in his book The Madness of Knowledge (, and the other, with Judith Weik in October 2019 ( on the nastiness of the idea of agency and the associated ‘lexicon of the illimitable’ in Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (   He discusses his writing and especially his more recent work, in the podcast Critical Attitudes, a conversation with Nathan Waddell in March 2021:   Thaumodynamics: Making a Living in Great Expectations, the Hilda Hulme Lecture given for the Institute of English Studies, London, in June 2021: Ceremonics ( is a brief prospectus for the sequence of books he has been writing since 2019 on social performativities. The sequence includes Giving Way: Thoughts on Unappreciated Dispositions (2019); A History of Asking (2022) and Seriously, Though (2022). Essays on crisis-behaviour, desperation styles, anger-management, wishing-rituals and faith-operations form part of this ongoing enquiry. More of Steven Connor’s essays, broadcasts and works-in-progress can be read, heard or watched on his website
In this episode we answer a $100,000 question. Writer and journalist Trish Lorenz won the global essay competition, The Nine Dots Prize, by turning anxiety about the world’s ageing population on its head and celebrating the game-changing power of Africa’s ‘youthquake’. Part of the prize is the chance to spend a term at CRASSH, and turn that initial 3,000 word entry into a book published by Cambridge University Press. But Trish took the long way round from her home in Berlin – arriving in Cambridge via Lagos and Abuja where she found and interviewed the young Africans who best represent the energy, the ingenuity, and the infectious generosity that she wanted to highlight. The ‘Soro Soke’ generation in Nigeria, and beyond, are outspoken, urban, tech savvy, globally connected, and unlike any demographic that has come before. So what happens when we start tuning in to what they have to say? Follow Trish Lorenz on Twitter here: @mstrishlorenz and on Instagram here: @mstrishlorenz Further examples of her journalism can be found here: When Trish misses Lagos, and the energy of the Soro Soke generation, she listens to this track by Wizkid (the most steamed Nigerian artist of all time): Two albums that represent the sounds of contemporary Nigeria, both released in 2020, are WizKid's 'Made in Lagos' ( and Burna Boy's 'Twice as Tall' ( More information on The Nine Dots Prize, including the publication announcement for Trish's book on the Soro Soke generation in Africa, appearing in May 2022, can be found here: A recent UNICEF study on what it feels like to be young in today's world can be found here: And Africa's 'youthquake' is discussed here: The story of how Jesus College, Cambridge, returned a Benin bronze to Nigeria, discussed in this episode, is here:
In this episode we discover how words move us. Literally. Dr Charlotte Lee is a Senior Lecturer in German at the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge, but just lately she’s stepped beyond her academic boundaries to ask everyone from neuroscientists, to dancers, to tiny children, more about the transporting power of poetry. Working in three languages, and across disciplines, her current research tries to discover how writers make us physically feel things that we only read about, and how our brain dances along to textual rhythms even when our bodies remain sitting still in a library chair. From the Ancient Greeks to nursery rhymes to hip hop, literature is always moving to the beat. But we’re only just discovering where it could take us. Learn more: Find out more about the New Hall Art Collection, the location for this episode, here The 'Watching Dance' project ( is an excellent resource for understanding principles such as kinesis and kinaesthetic empathy as discussed in this episode. 'Dance of the Muses' ( offers danced reconstructions of Ancient Greek choral poetry. At Cambridge, the Baby Rhythm Project of the Centre for Neuroscience in Education ( is elucidating the central role of rhythm in language acquisition in babies. Charlotte Lee's 2017 article on Klopstock and Goethe explores the relationship between poetry and movement (MOVEMENT AND EMBODIMENT IN KLOPSTOCK AND GOETHE - Her first book, also discussed in this episode, is a study of Goethe's last works and can be found here: (
In this episode we ask an expert on expertise what she knows for sure. Dr Anna Alexandrova is a Reader in the Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, and the principal investigator for the ‘Expertise Under Pressure’ group at CRASSH. Her latest research is co-authored with people currently in severe financial hardship, and combines their insights and lived experiences with conventional academic approaches to articulate a more authentic, democratic understanding of what it means to truly ‘flourish’ – work which could have significant impact on the government’s current wellbeing agenda. At a moment when expertise, globally, is under extreme pressure how can we make space for different ways of knowing? Is it reasonable to expect cast-iron certainty from our public experts? And what did Dr Alexandrova learn as a teenager that has shaped her whole career? Follow Anna Alexandrova and the Expertise Under Pressure team on Twitter via @ExpertiseUnder Anna’s writings can be found on her PhilPeople profile ( and her webpage ( Her 2017 book A Philosophy for the Science of Well-being is now available in paperback: You can find out about her ongoing work on responsible science of wellbeing ( by following the Bennett Institute for Public Policy @BennettInst. Some recent articles include “Wellbeing and Pluralism”(, “Happiness Economics as Technocracy” (, “Mental Health Without Wellbeing” ( And read more about national poverty charity Turn2Us and the co-production research work mentioned in this episode here:
In this episode we take a long look at what the New York Times believes might be “the dominant emotion of 2021.” But what is languishing? And did we really just invent it? Dr Emma Claussen, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in French at the University of Cambridge and research associate at Peterhouse College, thinks we certainly did not, and that writers and thinkers have been battling with how to ‘beat the blah’ (or at least learn to live with it) for centuries. So, what can voices from the Early Modern period tell us about living a ‘good’ life in uncertain times? How do the acts of reading and writing help us deal with loss, distance and disappointment? And what do you do when your meticulously documented research term suddenly becomes a media buzzword? Learn more: - Follow Emma Claussen on Twitter @eclaussen - Emma Claussen's new book, discussed in this episode, is available here and from all good bookshops: Politics and ‘Politiques' in Sixteenth-Century France(
In this episode we talk inequality, life chances, and the daily struggle to balance household budgets with Dr Niamh Mulcahy, economic sociologist at CRASSH and Alice Tong Sze Fellow at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. The financial crash of 2008, followed by the UK government's decade of austerity, and the Covid-19 pandemic has left millions of people in Britain facing a very uncertain future and holding increasingly unmanageable levels of personal debt. What set us on such a precarious path? How can we return to what Dr Mulcahy terms "steadiness"? And how is her college addressing these challenges in its own backyard? Learn More: Niamh Mulcahy's book, 'Class and Inequality in the Time of Finance', discussed in this episode is available for pre-order:
In this episode we join the dots on the global story of abolition with Dr Bronwen Everill, 1973 lecturer in History at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. Why was the Cambridge connection so central to those campaigning to end the slave trade in Britain? What did these abolitionists have in common with those in West Africa and in the United States? What was the product that both drove slavery and helped early ethical consumers do their bit for the abolitionist cause? And how do we acknowledge the different types of ‘labour’ that make an academic life possible today? Learn more: Bronwen Everill's book 'Not Made By Slaves: Ethical Capitalism in the Age of Abolition' is available here and in all good bookshops: Hear Bronwen Everill talking further about the Zong massacre on BBC Radio 4. BBC Radio 4 - In Our Time, The Zong Massacre: Read Bronwen Everill's blog article about buying ethically, and its limitations "Shopping for Racial Justice" ( and her research during her CRASSH fellowship here: - a journal article in History of Science ( on Freetown, Sierra Leone, as a ship-building and repair hub in the nineteenth century - and an African Economic History working paper on measuring the standard of living in nineteenth century Freetown ( The plaque to Anna Maria Vassa, discussed at the beginning of this episode, can be found at St Andrew's Church, Chesterton, Cambridge: St Andrew's Church, Chesterton's Wikipedia entry which discusses the plaqu:,_Chesterton
In this episode, presenter and broadcast journalist Catherine Galloway talks youth, ageing, research time, and timelessness with Professor Simon Goldhill, a former director of CRASSH, and Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Classics. We also spend time considering the life-changing power of the moment. As chair of the Nine Dots Prize Board, Professor Goldhill makes the phone call to the winner of this lucrative and prestigious biennial international essay competition, telling the astonished recipient that their ‘out of the box’ thinking has netted them $100,000, a publishing contract with Cambridge University Press, and the chance to come to CRASSH for a term to work on turning their essay answer into a book. The latest recipient was announced this month, and we’ve got the scoop on the idea that won. Thoughtlines is produced by Carl Homer at Cambridge TV. Learn more: - Find more on Professor Simon Goldhill here: - To discover the identity of the 2021 winner of the Nine Dots Prize mentioned in this episode click here: - An open access copy of the first Nine Dots Prize book, Stand Out Of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance In The Attention Economy, by James Williams, is available here: - An open access copy of the second Nine Dots Prize book, Bread, Cement, Cactus: A Memoir of Belonging and Dislocation, by Annie Zaidi, is available here: Simon Goldhill is the Professor of Greek Literature and Culture at the Faculty of Classics and a Fellow of King's College Cambridge. Professor Simon Goldhill's forthcoming book on time, discussed in this episode, will be released in 2022 by Cambridge University Press, and is titled The Christian Invention of Time: Temporality and the Literature of Late Antiquity. Two of his recent books are A Very Queer Family Indeed: Sex, Religion and the Bensons in Victorian Britain (The University of Chicago Press, 2016)
In this episode we talk wisdom, forgetting, and what we all have in common, with Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya, the Founding Director of the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies at CRASSH. What do the things we share, across all human history, tell us about who we really are? What are we missing? Why does the way we farm our planet need a re-think? And what on earth does the humble potato have to do with it all? (This episode was recorded remotely, during Covid-19 lockdown restrictions) Dr Inanna Hamati-Ataya is Principal Research Associate and Principal Investigator on the ERC-funded project ARTEFACT ( as of March 2018, and founding director of the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies or gloknos (, since September 2017. Inanna answers questions about the project here: She is the founding editor of the book series Global Epistemics ( at Rowman & Littlefield International.
In this episode we talk to archaeologist Professor Martin Millett about the ground-breaking changes in how we search, and respond to, the landscape of the past. We hear what happens when sound artists and radar technicians start really listening to the earth beneath our feet. What it means – on both sides - to be part of an Empire. And why nothing really beats the academic excitement of getting your hands dirty. For more on Professor Millett's radar discoveries in Falerii Novi in Italy, mentioned in this episode, please click here: The city rises: Cambridge archaeologists reveal an entire Roman city without digging - And for more on Professor Millett's Roman town project in Aldborough, England, also mentioned in this episode, please click here:
In this episode we talk tech with Digital Democracy expert Dr Marcus Tomalin. Can our computing systems be better and do better? How can we – everyday users and professional coders - spot the hidden biases and fleeting programming decisions that make a lasting difference in ‘real’ life? And can we even imagine what we’ll be asking Alexa ten years from now? (This episode was recorded before Covid-19 lockdown restrictions and when face to face teaching at the University of Cambridge was still occurring) LEARN MORE: To hear Marcus Tomalin talking more about Artificial Intelligence and Social Change please click here: To read Marcus Tomalin's journal article on 'Quarantining Online Hate Speech', discussed in this episode, please click here:
In this episode we talk food with cultural historian Dr Melissa Calaresu. The need to nourish ourselves is an eternal, daily preoccupation for all of us, but what we eat, and why, is an altogether meatier subject. Food is pleasure, performance, politics and even panic. Which fruit was a full-blown fashion craze in the 1600s? What did an undergraduate Isaac Newton feel guilty about buying? And why are our own early food memories so powerful? (This episode was recorded before Covid-19 lockdown restrictions) LEARN MORE: For a short film on Melissa Calaresu's 'Feast and Fast' exhibition featured in this episode, please click here For an academic introduction to food culture in Europe from 1500-1800 by Melissa Calaresu please click here And for more of Melissa Calaresu's research on the Neopolitan food experiences of Welsh painter Thomas Jones, featured in this episode, please click here
Introducing Thoughtlines

Introducing Thoughtlines


Welcome to Thoughtlines, a podcast celebrating the best of academic thinking outside the box, from CRASSH at the University of Cambridge.
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